Thursday, January 8, 2015

Freelance Animation 101

In between full time animation work is a world known as "Freelance". This is often an exciting place when the job you have taken on is working in your favor, however it can turn into a dangerous place when things aren't going so good. I think everyone should freelance now and then to help them use their knowledge and talents they have gained during those full time years of employment.

I have discovered that there are two different laws of Freelancing. One Law is when you really need to find a job, it seems impossible to actually find one at the time. The other Law, is when you finally find a job, several other job opportunities pop up.  I always grumble,"Where were you two months ago?!" I'm sure there are other laws on the subject, but these two seem to be the most common.

When you first are contacted by a potential client, you must find out as much information as you can without sounding too desperate. You're at a party, people are interacting with one another and some approaches you in casual conservation. You aren't going to talk their ear off by telling them everything you did that week and so with the first contact email or phone call, you need to let them tell you what they want.

Here are three important questions you need to find out first. 

1) What is the job? 2) How long will the job last? and 3) What is the budget?

Depending on the job, the last two questions may be answered by the first question. If they are look for an animator to be a part of a team, they will usually ask you what your rate or day rate is. This is where you can loose the job if your rate is higher than what they are willing to pay. By asking if they have a budget sometimes gets them to tell you what they are willing to pay. You should also have some idea already what people are making for the job they are offering.

Here's a really good blog for Animators or any creative freelance person showing why you need to have some sort of contract before you start any project. After you have a contract, you should sent up a payment schedule to make sure you will be paid for the work you do. A good payment schedule is to start with 1/3 of the payment upfront. This will let you know if your client is as honest as you are. You shouldn't start the project until the check is cashed and everything is a-OK.

Be wary of animation jobs or gigs on websites like craigslist. You really have to be careful and make sure you understand the terms of the work. A lot of ads promise that you will be paid on "the backend". This means, you do the work now for free and later, when the theme park opens, you will get a % of the profits. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is a bunch of BS. Not all ads are posted by bad people, you will find a few hidden jems out there every now and then. Bottom line, always have a contract of some kind. If they don't want to sign it, you probably don't want to work with them.

Recently, I began a freelance job, have gotten thru all of the above and now, I'm waiting for my first payment to arrive. Yes, "the check is in the mail," only 8 days and counting. Then I get that email, "What's your address again and how much is the first payment?" Welcome to Freelance..

Next Time: The check arrives...


  1. Hi Jim,

    It's interesting to read about the problems of freelance work from an animator's point of view! I was wondering whether you could give me some advice on the opposite situation: Finding a good freelancer.

    I have twice hired animators for traditional animation on Upwork, which seems to be the largest online platform for freelancers. However, I was disappointed on both accounts. My impression is that most of the artists there work for rather low fees (the $30/h I paid seems to be on the higher end there), but also rather unexperienced in traditional animation: things like perspective or consistency between drawings.

    So I wonder: Where are all the experienced traditional animators? Where are the people who worked on all the animated cartoons, computer games, and Disney movies up to the 1990s? How can I find a seasoned animator who is open to small-ish gigs? I'm grateful for any insights!


  2. Why,Daniel, I'm right here!

    A lot of the traditional animators have either had to adapt to learning CG animation and software like MAYA or have found work in other parts of the animation industry, like storyboarding. Animating in Perspective and keeping your character "On Model" is harder to do in 2D traditional animation rather than CG.

    Hope that helps and if you need some help on something, you know where to find me.

  3. Hi Jim,

    It's great to know you're available for freelance work! Is there a way I can contact you privately?